Not a review of the River Cottage Baby & Toddler Cookbook

It’s probably not on to try and review a recipe book having only tried a few of the things in it. Happily, Nikki Duffy hasn’t just put recipes into the River Cottage Baby & Toddler Cookbook.

Instead, it’s half a general guide to feeding your offspring, and half suggestions on solid family meals you can all enjoy together, whether you’re six months old or 96.

It’s really good, and an absolute steal for a tenner on Amazon at the moment (you might as well get the River Cottage fruit and veg books for another tenner whilst you’re there.)

What’s it all about?

Quoting from the introduction:

More than the precise balancing of different nutrients, more than perfect presentation, more than persuading them to eat what you want them to eat, I think feeding children well should be about instilling a love of good food and of shared eating.

If you love eating and want your children to love eating too, then this is the book for you. It’ll also be right up your street if you tend to regard kitchen scales as overly fussy; there’s no “grate 272g of carrot and mix with exactly three teaspoons of ground kale” here.

But not just recipes, you say?

Nope, you’re also getting an easy-reading summary of the why, how, and who says so. Three things I learnt from the first 100 pages:

Family mealtimes are important.

There’s a whole section on “what to do if your child doesn’t eat the grub you put in front of them”. Flicking back through the chapter there’s nothing gloriously inspired, just lots of things that seem obvious once you’ve been told them.

Take family mealtimes. Ms DarkerSide and I never eat at the table. I know that the idea of everyone eating together is nice and wholesome, but by the time I get back from work, get out of my (cycling…) lycra and shower, it’s too late to start preparing food for all three of us. Far easier for Ms DarkerSide to feed Owen earlier, and then we’ll grab something later on and eat from the sofa.

There’s a problem though. If Owen decides that he’s going to use the tasty food he ate with gusto yesterday as shampoo, then he gains nothing from his dinner other than tomato-y hair. Instead, if we all sit down together he’s more likely to eat up in the first place (because he can see mummy and daddy eating the same stuff) and even if he eats nothing, he still gets the idea that people have dinner around this time, and that dinner is about eating, talking, and sitting at the table. And we don’t get stressed if his portion ends up on the floor.

Using chocolate and sweets as a reward isn’t smart

Paraphrasing Pink Floyd; “you can’t have any pudding until you eat your meat”.

Problem: you’re enforcing the idea that pudding is the tasty reward, and meat (or broccoli, cabbage, or whatever else) is something unpleasant to be toiled through.

Obviously your kids can’t pig out on ice cream all the time, but you can control their sweet tooth without making a big deal about it. If you use food as a reward, you make it ultra-desirable (although this probably wouldn’t work with sprouts).

What fruit and veg are “in season”

I get that we should be buying local fruit and veg, and that that means buying stuff that’s in season.

I don’t know what’s in season.

Maybe my education has been sadly deficient, but in my simple mind everything sprouts in spring and for the rest of the year we’re eating bark and twigs. When Glasgow Locavore dumped a surprise load of beetroot in my veg box in early November, I had no idea what to do with the damn things.

Happily, the book has a big table with all the fruit and veg you’re likely to get in the UK, when it’s in season, how to store it, what to do if you get loads at once, and a handy cross-reference to the recipes in the book that use it.


OK, but what about the recipes?

We’ve only tried a few, but all were good (one had a seven-month old happily munching through sprouts). They’re grouped by season (again; handy), aimed at three adult servings (or two adults and two kids), and have extra section on how you can adapt the recipe for babies or make it slightly more grown up.

Owen eating sprouts
See? That’s a baby eating sprouts with every sign of enjoyment (the cheesy sauce may be helping somewhat…)

There’s a separate section on purees, as well as a final group of all-year-round techniques like bread, stock, and an easy way to cook fish.

If you’ve seen any of the River Cottage TV programmes, you’ll know what kind of food to expect. Be reassured that Nikki understands you might have a screaming baby under one arm—most of the stuff you can knock up pretty quickly and without any particular skill at the hob.

Anything else?

There’s a sensible (and non-judgemental) explanation of breast and formula feeding, and the pros and cons of each.

Nikki has summarised the guidance on when to start weaning, which boils down to not before four months, probably not after six months, and definitely on lumpy stuff by nine months.

If you’re worried about allergies, there’s a bit on that.

If you’re holding off solids because you’re afraid of your baby choking, skip to page 56.




PS: Wednesday’s bike post will be on another quick win for infrastructure and on Friday I’ll be writing about ignorance (mine in particular). Next Monday’s baby thing will be about medical capacity and consent for your kids.

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